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3 Feb 2003 : Column 120—continued

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Foster: The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) says that that is not enough. I accept that it is not enough. I can say with all integrity that we want more, but I will not say, "We want more, but vote for less cash to pay for the services." That is a matter of integrity. I will stand up and tell it straight. The hon. Lady may not like to have a reputation for being straight on this issue, but I shall certainly conduct myself with integrity.

Mr. Luff: The hon. Gentleman says that he is going to be straight with the House, but I regret the party

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political note that he has injected into the debate. This matter should be above party politics. He knows that there is not a single shred of truth in the accusation that he made several minutes ago that the Conservative party would cut expenditure on the health service by 20 per cent. That is integrity!

Mr. Foster: I recall a comment from the Opposition Treasury Front-Bench spokesman, who said that the Conservative party was conducting a root-and-branch review, with a view to making a 20 per cent. cut in expenditure in all Departments. I cannot remember saying in my contribution that the Conservatives planned a 20 per cent. cut; I merely pointed out that a 20 per cent. in spending would not help. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) may have a guilty conscience about that, but it is not for me to worry about it.

I applaud the local hospital trust on its ability to try to be creative in recruiting nursing staff. I welcome the new crèche that was opened last year in Worcester.

Miss Kirkbride: It is about time.

Mr. Foster: I fully appreciate that it is about time.

Miss Kirkbride: What about the Alex?

Mr. Foster: I have good news for the hon. Lady: work is under way for a new crèche at the Alexandra hospital, and a new multi-faith centre is almost complete, as is the refurbishment of the accident and emergency department and the ear, nose and throat and fracture clinics.

There will always be a call for more resources for our health service, whether in community hospitals, which the hon. Member for Wyre Forest mentioned, or in acute ones. I understand that a number of beds are being used in the acute hospital by patients who should be served in the community. That has been an ongoing issue with social services. I am pleased that things are moving in the right direction, and community hospitals have a big role to play in that respect. Although I support the call to protect the Eveshams, Pershores and the Malverns of this world—the NHS hospitals in Worcestershire—I always have to point out to colleagues in the House that, somehow, the means has to be found to pay for those hospitals.

I shall meet the chairman of the trust on Friday. I will also meet the community health council later that day. I shall take on board the comments that have been made to me by the patients and the staff of the hospital. I am concerned about some capacity issues. I have publicly expressed a concern that the Aconbury wing at Newtown hospital in Worcester would be threatened somehow. That capacity is needed for Worcester and Worcestershire to ensure that that hospital can cope with patient intake. I made that plea to the former chairman, Mr. Harold Musgrove, and I will restate my view that that hospital wing needs to be kept open.

Does the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), agree that the issue of agency nurses is a real concern for the Department? What will be done,

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especially with regard to the article in The Sunday Times yesterday, which pointed out the soaring cost of agency nurses within the national health service?

As I said, it was a surprising pleasure to be able to contribute to the debate. Once again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Wyre Forest on raising the issue on the Floor of the House. He ought, however, to provide a more mixed message when he describes the health service in the county to our local media. He is right to point out the failings: I agree with him and join him in pointing out what those failings are. At times, however, he should also promote the good work that is done in our health service, so that he is seen as balanced in his approach. I will take it on myself to do exactly the same for my constituents and take a balanced approach. I will praise what is good and criticise what is bad, but, most of all, I will continue to vote for more resources for our health service, as the only way that it will get better is through investment and reform.

10.11 pm

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove): I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) unexpectedly in this great debate. It is exciting to have a few moments to make a contribution.

Many of the comments of the hon. Member for Worcester were sadly somewhat disingenuous. While we all support the staff of the national health service and their hard work, there is no doubt that a proper Worcestershire Member of Parliament would feel strongly that we get a very unfair share of the national health service cake. Certainly, we get a very unfair share per capita of the national cake, which is demonstrably true, although the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), is saying from a sedentary position that it is not so. I cannot believe that she does not share the experience of my constituents, as we share the same per capita funding. Every constituent of mine who needs a hip operation, a cataract operation or any elective surgery that is common to our national service will, by dint of living in Worcestershire, have to wait for one year, whereas other people, such as those on the Birmingham waiting list, will have a shorter wait. I can only assume that she does not read her post if she does not realise how acute the waiting list problem is in Worcestershire.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jacqui Smith): Is it due to money?

Miss Kirkbride: I will not take sedentary interventions. If the Minister of State would like to comment, we will be interested to hear whether she is prepared to stand up for her constituents.

The hon. Member for Worcester also raised the issue of our community hospitals, about which I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) feels strongly—he has several in my constituency, and I have one in mine. The hon. Member for Worcester seemed to say that, if there was not enough money for community hospitals, that was a question of resources. I remind him that those community hospitals existed under a Conservative Government whom he takes no opportunity not to criticise for their spending on the national health service.

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He also completely distorts the truth about the spending of a future Conservative Government. Nevertheless, those hospitals existed under a Conservative Government, and we expect them to exist under a Labour Government and their spending should increase, bearing in mind that our national insurance contributions will go up in April by 1 per cent.

We are very worried about the crisis—I stress that it is a crisis—in health service funding in Worcestershire. My NHS trust has a debt of £6 million and rising, and my primary care trust has a debt of £2.5 million. Clearly, the health service management in the region has told them that they must balance the books by the next financial year. The financial crisis in the PCT in the south of Worcestershire amounts to £5 billion of debt, hence the worry about the closure of community hospitals as the only fixed assets that can be sold to meet those debts. Worcestershire has a very serious problem, which manifests itself in a variety of ways.

In my area, whether eye care should be provided on a local basis is a growing problem. It is welcome that, currently—I am sure that the Minister of State agrees, as she is nodding—we have eye care clinics in the Princess of Wales hospital in Bromsgrove and at the Alexandra hospital in Redditch, yet those are under threat and the services are under review. We are very fearful, because of the £7 million debt, that those services will be withdrawn and based in Kidderminster and Worcester alone. However, because of their eye problems and inability to see, those people should not have to travel long distances. They should be able to go to local eye care clinics. However, because of the deficit that the trust is experiencing, they might not come about. [Interruption.] The Whip rightly says that I must give the Minister the opportunity to speak, but we are very concerned by the £1.87 million increase in the cost of the private finance initiative contract, as made clear in the latest auditor's report.

When the Minister responds, we would be grateful if he would explain why suddenly, in Worcestershire alone, we now have yellow two alerts instead of red alerts. Will he be kind enough to explain what a yellow alert is and what the difference is between that and a red alert? The GPs in the county are mightily confused.

10.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. David Lammy): I congratulate the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) on securing a debate on NHS hospitals in Worcestershire. I am sure that all hon. Members are aware of his keen interest in all health issues within and beyond his constituency. The local issues that he raised today have clearly been of great interest to the Worcestershire community.

The hon. Gentleman briefly mentioned good news in Worcestershire, and it is right that I spend a few moments talking about the good things that are happening in the hospitals in Worcestershire. The county is served by three acute hospitals employing 4,500 people who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) pointed out, are overwhelmingly doing a good job. They are managed collectively by the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust.

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The largest of those hospitals is the Worcester royal hospital, a newly built PFI hospital that opened in March 2002 at a cost of £95 million. That new hospital brings together services previously scattered between the three sites in Worcestershire, with careful planning placing interacting departments as closely to one another as possible. A good example is the siting of the accident and emergency department next to the critical care unit, radiology and operating theatres. That resulted from the contributions of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to the planning and consultation process.

When the new hospital opened, it required the transfer of 300 patients to the new hospital, in complete safety, over just two weekends, ending an era of patients being housed in long open wards. Rooms in the new hospital have a maximum of four beds, with a high proportion of single or two-bed rooms. All rooms have en-suite facilities, providing an improvement in patient privacy. That arrangement of rooms gives greater flexibility for ward managers to provide specialised care for patients with similar conditions. Rooms are grouped together in virtual wards managed by a modern matron. The hospital provides vanguard services and local people are rightly proud of that. It incorporates nine operating theatres, a large accident and emergency department and critical care unit, and specialist radiology and scanning facilities.

The hon. Gentleman often raises the subject of Kidderminster hospital and did so again today. It is important to focus on the positive developments there for the benefit of both the staff who work there and the patients who use the facilities.

Kidderminster has received £13 million in investment to develop a state-of-the-art diagnostic and treatment centre and an ambulatory care centre, which is due for completion this autumn. As well as maintaining existing patient services, Kidderminster will have a modern minor injuries unit, a primary care centre, out-patients clinics, operating theatres and treatment rooms with 23-hour recovery facilities. It will also have radiology, including X-ray and computerised tomography scanner, ultrasound equipment and therapy treatments, including physiotherapy, not to mention 20 GP medical beds, rehabilitation and step-down beds, dedicated cancer services, maternity services and a new £600,000 satellite renal dialysis unit. That is not a hospital in decline.

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